WWII and Korean War Veteran Gets Escorted Home in a Three-Day Funeral Procession

Patriot Guard Riders of North Carolina attend a funeral ceremony.
Patriot Guard Riders of North Carolina attend the funeral ceremony for Col. Edgar Davis April 6, 2018, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen)

SARASOTA — The three-day, six-state funeral procession of an unclaimed World War II/Korean War veteran for a reunion with his mother commenced at dawn Friday, escorted by Tampa's Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and the Florida Highway Patrol.

A hearse carrying the body of Wallace Anderson Taylor is bound for the Arch L. Heady Resthaven Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, where he will be buried with full military honors at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Unmarried, and leaving behind no surviving relatives, Taylor of Zephyrhills died at 96 in February and faced the unceremonious prospects of being interred with little formal recognition. But one of his closest friends, Rob Lynch, a Veterans Experience Officer at Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, alerted the nonprofit Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association to Taylor's status.

The association organizes military burials for unclaimed veterans, called The Final Mile, and has guided more than two dozen otherwise forgotten service members to private and national cemeteries over the past two years. The disposition of Taylor's remains — accompanied by the cremains of several pet dogs and a red-white-and-blue blanket made by his late mother in their native Kentucky — is the group's most complex mission to date.

The cortege will be met by police from each state along the 1,000-mile journey, and every stop along the way will involve veterans service organizations offering farewell salutes. Motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard and other veterans groups are expected to join the motorcade along the way on partial legs of the journey.

For Tampa chapter treasurer Dave Allen, a Desert Storm veteran, assembling a complicated and expensive Final Mile project for Taylor was a no-brainer.

"Full military honors means a three-volley salute, which is not something you're usually going to get for an unclaimed veteran, and Mr. Taylor has certainly earned it," Allen said. "There's a history to it.

"Back in the old days when armies would line up and shoot at each other, they'd call a time out so that both sides could care for their dead. When one side finished, they fired a three-volley salute to notify the other side it was their turn to get the bodies. The three-volley salute means, we've taken care of our dead."

That final symbolic measure will be completed in Louisville Sunday, to a reception Ron Stoll at Jennings Funeral Home in Sarasota had not initially anticipated.

"Because (Taylor) is a Kentucky Colonel, Louisville has rolled out the red carpet," Stoll said Friday morning. "We had a venue selected where we were going to stop before the (Resthaven) cemetery, but the Louisville police said no, that's not big enough, we have more units that are going to lead and accompany you in this salute than we can get into that venue. So they moved it to a much larger venue."

Taylor's many lives are reflected on an invention Stoll calls a coasson, a two-wheeled fusion of a coach and a caisson. The towable vehicle is decorated with decals reflecting his military service, Army sergeant's rank, Freemasonry membership, and his inclusion into the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, which he was granted for his efforts in two wars.

Moments before the sendoff to Kentucky, Stoll reviewed a litany of Taylor's contributions to the United States, which began with an assignment to the Army Air Corps in the Second World War, to Korea a decade later, where he led a unit supporting the Marines in bloody fighting against the Chinese army above the 38th parallel.

"He comes from the generation that comes from the Great Depression and helped win World War II, and then built the infrastructure that 70 years later we are just now beginning to reconstruct," Stoll told several dozen assembled motorcyclists moments before their departure to the next stop at the VA hospital in Tampa.

"Life begins as a blank canvas," Stoll went on. "Every breath is a brush stroke. Every experience adds color. Each moment, each decision, each interaction, gives definition to a work in progress, until the time finally comes when the painting is finished.

"In this particular 96-year-long masterpiece, there are two primary objectives. One is patriotism, the other is heroism. Those are the hallmarks of Colonel Wallace Anderson Taylor."

Following a brief prayer from the chaplain of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3233 in Sarasota, the old soldier was off to be with his mother, Thelma Anderson Taylor.

A GoFundMe account to cover the $10,000 Final Mile funeral expenses is online at gofund.me/9a9f3231.

This article is written by Billy Cox from Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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